Parental Separation and Long-Term Outcomes for Inmates: Unexplored Terrain

Courtney Conn

Advisor: June P Tangney, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: June Tangney, Ellen Rowe, Catherine Gallagher

David J. King Hall, #2007
October 17, 2011, 10:30 AM to 07:00 AM


Parental separation, in general, has been shown to have negative effects on children both immediately and longer-term as adults.  While there has been extensive research on how parental separation affects children and adults in clinical and community samples, little research has examined how this affects an incarcerated sample.  In addition, recently research has begun to look at the different outcomes death and divorce may have on children, but little has been conducted on the effects of an incarcerated parent on a child as this has only recently become a serious issue.  This study of jail inmates attempts to bridge the gap between the literature on parental separation in the clinical and community populations, and parental separation effects on incarcerated populations.  Drawing on data from retrospective reports, the present study investigated the relationship between parental separation as a result of divorce, death, or incarceration, and several variables of interest (depression, anxiety, shame-proneness, psychopathy, and substance dependence) in a sample of 592 inmates housed in an urban jail.  Separation from the mother by any means was positively significantly related to depression, cognitive depression, and the PCL:SV Factor 2 score, and approached significance for other variables.  Separation from the father was not significantly related to any of the outcome variables.  When comparing the negative effects of separation from the mother to separation from the father, the difference was most pronounced when separated from the mother due to incarceration.  Being separated from the mother due to death or divorce did not result in any differentially worse outcomes.  Being separated from the mother because of divorce (versus death or incarceration) was associated with lower scores of shame-proneness, while being separated from the mother because of incarceration (versus death or divorce) was associated with higher scores for the PCL:SV total and shame-proneness.  The age at which the child was separated from his or her parent, and the length of time separated, did not have a significant relationship to any of the outcome variables.  The cohort of participants that were currently 45 years and older and experienced separation from a parent due to divorce or incarceration were more likely to experience cocaine and alcohol dependence as adults, compared to participants who had not been separated from their parents, and a cohort of participants that were currently 25 years and younger and had experienced separation from a parent due to divorce or incarceration.